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To answer a question that continues to find its way to my e-mailbox, we will begin running our minor league Top 20 Prospects list next week. We’™ll start with the Rookie-level Arizona League on Wednesday, and work our way from the bottom of the minors to the top, concluding with the Triple-A Pacific Coast League on Oct. 11.

And because I have several Top 20s to edit, let’™s get to your questions posthaste!

Gordon was a relatively easy choice. Some years there is no obvious frontrunner, and some years there are several deserving candidates. Going straight to Double-A for his pro debut, he hit .325/.427/.588 with 29 homers, 101 RBIs and 22 steals in 130 games.

There was no other hitter who could match Gordon’™s combination of elite performance and elite prospect status. Angels shortstop Brandon Wood came the closest, with a .276/.355/.552 season that included 25 homers, 83 RBIs and 19 steals. But considering they were in the same Texas League, Gordon’™s numbers were clearly superior.

For the first time I can remember, a player from the current year’™s draft entered the discussion. But Devil Rays shortstop Evan Longoria only played 62 games, and his .315/.360/.597 totals with 18 homers and 58 RBIs weren’™t going to put him past Gordon.

Because minor league pitchers are kept on pitch and innings limits, it’™s harder for them to put up gaudy numbers. The top mound candidates were the Twins’™ Matt Garza (14-4, 1.99, 154 strikeouts in 136 innings), the Yankees’™ Philip Hughes (12-6, 2.16, 168 K in 146 IP) and the Reds’™ Homer Bailey (10-6, 2.47, 156 K in 139 IP). The Brewers’™ Yovani Gallardo (11-5, 1.86, 188 K in 155 IP) also was a consideration.

    Scott Lewis went just 3-3 this year at high Class A Kinston in the Carolina League despite starting 26 games and pitching 116 innings. How did it happen that he had so few wins and losses in so many starts? Is it because he was on strict pitch counts after having Tommy John surgery at Ohio State? Has his arm bounced back yet, and what kind of prospect is he?

    Tom McCullough
    York, Pa.

As a sophomore at Ohio State in 2003, Lewis looked like a lock for the first round of the 2004 draft. A lefty with an 89-92 mph fastball and a nasty curveball, he struck out 16 and 20 in back-to-back starts. But he blew out his elbow late in the spring and made just five starts as a junior. The Indians signed him for $460,000 as a third-round pick.

Lewis’™ elbow is fine now, though he pitched just 21 innings in his first two pro seasons while missing time with biceps tendinitis in 2005. Cleveland is handling him very gingerly, limiting him to no more than 70 pitchers per start this year. That led to plenty of no-decisions, but Lewis did lead all full-season pitchers with a 1.48 ERA and had a 123-28 K-BB ratio in 116 innings.

He’™s less overpowering than he was in college. Lewis’™ fastball has dipped to 84-88, but he has compensated by learning to spot it well up and down in the strike zone. His curveball has added depth and velocity since he has turned pro, and he also has improved his changeup. A lefty who can locate his fastball and back it up with plus secondary pitches should have more than enough stuff to succeed, so Lewis should be fine.

    Baseball America named David Price its Summer Player of the Year. I was wondering about the prospect status of his teammate, Cody Crowell, who was better than his Vanderbilt teammate at times last spring. Where does Crowell fit in the 2007 draft?

    Alex Palmer
    Towson, Md.

Draft-eligible as a redshirt sophomore in 2006, Crowell probably would have gone between the seventh and 15th rounds had he been considered signable for slot money. He wasn’™t, so he went unselected and spent the summer with Brewster in the Cape Cod League.

Crowell had the best ERA (3.95) among Vanderbilt’™s weekend starters last spring, finishing ahead of the more heralded Price (4.16). Both are big lefthanders, though the comparison ends there. Price can overpower hitters with his fastball and slider, and he’™s a candidate to go No. 1 overall in 2007. Crowell is more of a finesse pitcher who relies on the wicked life on his fastball and changeup.

There’™s a lot of effort in Crowell’™s delivery, and he sometimes struggles to command his pitches because they move so much. If he has a good spring, it’™s possible he could go around the fifth round next June.

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Minors | #2006 #Ask BA

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